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Atkins Diet Goes on a Diet

Atkins Educator Recommends Limiting Saturated Fat to 20%
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WebMD Health News

Jan. 21, 2004 -- For years, many people have thought of the Atkins diet as an all-you-can-eat meat, eggs, and cheese buffet.

But in seminars across the country, health professionals are hearing a different tune. An Atkins educator has reportedly said that only 20% of a dieter's calories should come from saturated fat, according to a recent New York Times story.

After all these years, is the Atkins organization reacting to criticisms that the diet advocates too much saturated fat? WebMD spoke with an Atkins advisor and other experts in nutrition and heart disease.

"Nothing has changed," Stuart Trager, MD, chairman of the Atkins Physicians Council, tells WebMD. "Our message is still the same. Atkins is, and always has been, about controlling carbohydrates -- teaching people to eat nutrient-dense whole foods and avoid refined carbohydrates like white flour and sugar."

Atkins never did -- and still does not -- prescribe amounts of fats or protein, Trager explains. "Instead, we teach people to be aware of and control carbohydrate consumption. When we eat a variety of protein sources and fats to satiate hunger, we eat less because the food tastes good and is filling. Without portion restriction, this has been shown to result in weight loss."

Do the Math

The "20% number" in the Times article was derived from meal plans and recipes in Atkins books, he says. In fact, during the diet's induction phase, people typically consume up to 60% of calories from fat.

If 60% is divided into thirds -- to reflect the variety of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats that Atkins espouses -- the magic number pops up: 20% of calories would be from saturated fat.

"It's important and worth recognizing that both steak and eggs are a balance of fats," Trager tells WebMD. "In a porterhouse steak, saturated fat makes up 17% of total fat. In an egg, including the yolk, saturated fat is only 18% of total fat."

Read the Books

The Atkins diet is vastly misunderstood, says Trager. "Atkins has never been, as the media and opponents would have people believe, a red-meat diet," says Trager. "We need to spend less time criticizing individual nutrition strategies and more attention in defeating obesity. Weight loss solutions aren't one-size-fits-all."

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